Labour, not the Tories, would now suffer under AV

A new poll shows that the party would win 13 fewer seats under the Alternative Vote.

The outcome of the AV referendum will be decided by Labour votes. The most recent YouGov poll, for instance, shows that while Lib Dem voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (79:13) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (66:20), Labour voters are split 40:39 in favour of first-past-the-post.

With this in mind, it's worth watching to see how Labour activists respond to a new YouGov poll for Channel 4 News showing that their party would suffer the most from a switch to AV. Under FPTP, based on current voting intentions, Labour would win 355 seats, the Tories would win 255 and the Lib Dems would win just 16 – a Labour majority of 60. But under AV, Labour would win 342 (-13), the Tories would win 255 (unchanged) and the Lib Dems would win 29 (+13), resulting in a significantly reduced Labour majority of 34.

At every general election from 1997-2010, Labour would have done better under AV thanks to a high number of second-preference votes from Lib Dem supporters. But, as previous polls have shown, Lib Dem voters now split in favour of the Tories (a large number of their left-wing supporters having already defected to Labour).

The latest poll shows that 31 per cent would back the Tories, 24 per cent would back Labour and 24 per cent would back the Greens. Returning the compliment, 41 per cent of Conservatives voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, followed by Ukip (27 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, Labour support for the Lib Dems has collapsed since the election, with even Ukip preferred to Nick Clegg's party.

A May 2010 poll by the British Election Study showed that more than half of Labour voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, but now just 16 per cent would. The Greens (30 per cent) and Ukip (18 per cent) both attract more support than the yellow team.

As YouGov's Anthony Wells points out, the poll comes with several health warnings: "[I]t assumes both a uniform swing, and that each party's second preferences split in the same proportions across the country. It also cannot take into account what effect an election campaign fought under AV would be."

But, for those in Labour struggling to explain the merits of AV to an increasingly tribal and parochial party, this is another blow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.